Google is a modern oracle, and a miraculous one at that. It can lead you to the Perfect Strangers theme song lyrics, or to a satellite image of your childhood neighborhood, or to a blueprint for building a quantum computer. But for as much as it is a portal to the world's knowledge, and despite its inherently aspirational functionality, Google searches are also a reflection of the status quo.
Do an image search for "CEO," for instance, and Google's algorithm returns a mosaic of mostly white, male faces.
Which makes sense: Only two dozen Fortune 500 companies have women as top bosses—that's less than 5 percent of overall Fortune 500 CEOs. And the 10 best paid CEOs in America are all white and male, according to The Guardian.
There is, however, one female face that pops up among the first few dozen male CEOS, though.
Can you spot it?
Let's zoom in a little.
That's right. It's CEO Barbie.
Here's the thing, though: Google image searches don't just reflect the sad state of diversity in corporate leadership; they actually influence the ways in which people think about what it means to be a CEO. That's according to researchers at the University of Washington and the University of Maryland, who determined that Google images measurably sway a person's opinion about how many men and women work in a particular field—compared with what that person thought before conducting the search. The effect is small but significant. "We find that
people’s existing perceptions of gender ratios in occupations are quite accurate," the researchers wrote. "But that manipulated search results can... [shift] estimations on average [by] 7 percent."